Bad Decisions: Understanding and Recovering

Everybody makes mistakes because nobody is perfect. Uneventful circumstances brought about by our wrong choices are something we either repeat or learn from. Most of the bad decisions we create in our lives involve an immediate convenience or reward—it’s about choosing to live for now even though the chances of paying its price later is high. This seemingly a carpe-diem philosophy is further strengthened when the consequences are uncertain to happen.

How do we come up with decisions?

According to an article on Mindless Eating, there are roughly 200 food-related choices each person makes on a daily basis. Other choices related to work, family, relationships etc. are not yet included in that approximate and it’s probably safe to tell that we make thousands of choices every moment of our day.

Decisions that don’t feel like one are “unconscious decisions” or more like habits—they are normally included in our routines that doing so becomes automatic in our system like taking a shower, getting out of bed or driving to work. While there are also conscious or “big decisions” a.k.a the ones that can cause you to have anxiety attacks. These are life-changing decisions like, what to do in life, having kids, quitting a job etc.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz points out that when making a decision, it should evaluate these areas:

  • What is your goal
  • Value of reaching that goal
  • Options for reaching that goal
  • Options that will likely produce the desired outcome

It all sounds pretty easy and simple but reason/s why most people screw up may be due to following factors:

Emotions, biases, memories and peers that cloud our thinking:

For the most of us, if only there was less reaction and more action, bad decisions would’ve been limited. Most of us are already aware on what we should be doing. You’re probably aware that you need to take your medicines, that it’s not right to hit your wife or cheat on your husband, or you shouldn’t lie.

Missed opportunities:

It’s when we make a choice, for example choosing a course in college; it seems that all other doors are shutting off. It seems definitive and final that once a path choice is made, all others are no longer an option.

Breaking bad habits

Most if not all of us follow certain habits that do more harm than good. In an article about Breaking Bad Habits on servishero.com/sg, these can be broken by changing our thought processes.

According to Mary Ann Chapman, Ph.D. and scientific communications writer, breaking a bad habit is possible we:

  1. Avoid or minimize the immediate reward
  2. Make the long-term negative outcome more immediate

For example, relying too much on credit card on every transaction can lead to a scary total bill at the end of the month. The most appropriate thing to do is to leave the credit card at home (use it for emergencies) and do a budget planning for the next day’s expenses using cash.

In this example, the immediate reward of incessantly swiping your credit card every time you like to buy something is avoided by planning your daily budget; and the possible long-term negative effect (high credit card bill) is immediately taken into account.

Starting good habits

If you’re eager to start making right choices like doing regular exercise, going back to school or mending a broken relationship, expect that the process will be difficult at first, but the potential benefits are worth it. The idea is minimize or avoid the immediate-negative-and prioritize the lone-term effect in the future, the positive stuff.

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